Downsizing for moms

In honor of Mother’s Day, I will muse on how moms can downsize. I’m not a mother myself, so I have no credibility for any advice I’m about to give. That won’t stop me, though. 

I’ll first give some suggestions on minimizing small children’s stuff. I talked with the mom of a student of mine. Her daughter, who we’ll call Ana, loves drawing. She’s a talented artist, and she loves, loves, loves drawing. Every Friday during Choice Time, she makes her mom three or four drawings – did I mention she loves drawing? That’s 12 to 16 drawings a month – just from Friday Choice Time – easily 500 in the course of one school year. And she’s only in kindergarten.

Ana’s mom told me she puts a lot of the drawings up on the wall. She takes photos of the rest on her phone and then “stores” them. I’m not sure where she stores them; she didn’t say. Hopefully Ana won’t ask. She’s pretty busy drawing.

Last week I watched a veteran teacher across the hall from me as she received a drawing from a former student. She said to the student, “Thank you so much! I’ll take this home. I have a special spot where I put things like this.” Once again, she didn’t say where that special spot is.

So downsizing on the front end is one option.

Now let’s address the downsizing situations of moms with grown-up children. Most moms might not make their children clean out their childhood bedrooms when they move out, which creates an eventual inevitable situation of a childhood room full of childhood stuff. This may leave the mother in question with a conflicting sense of nostalgia and a desire for a clean room that could be used for other purposes. Unless the child was using a scanner from a young age and left a neat and organized set of digital archives in the room, of course. You’re welcome, Mom.

My mother-in-law wanted to clean out my husband’s childhood items in one fell swoop. She asked my husband to come over and clean out his old boxes of things. About three months later, he did. To be honest, I was not helping to remind him of the promise he had made to go clean the boxes in his parents’ attic out: I was worried how many of the items would end up coming our way. Luckily, he sorted and donated a large portion of his childhood belongings and brought home some memorabilia items to scan and/or store in his special non-downsizing box. Everybody won. 

My mom, on the other hand, is taking a more piecemeal approach. I suspect she thinks that if she gave me a similar opportunity to start weeding through all of my old collages, schoolwork, and stuffed animals, I might just throw everything out. I seriously have no idea where she got that notion. I would obviously recycle, donate, or take items to Half-Price Books or to the Hennepin County hazardous waste drop-off. I would only throw out what I had no other way of disposing. Every time I see my mom, she brings a reusable Byerly’s bag with my old stuff that she has sorted through and decided to hand off to me. Sometimes it includes items that can be used in my classroom like pads of paper and old colored pencils. Sometimes it just includes fun notes or receipts that I can discard after getting a laugh out of them or scanning them if the mood strikes.

Here is a what was in the last Byerly’s bag she brought me:

— High school bus schedules, detailing each stop’s location and pickup time

 — Perfect attendance letters from middle school

— A “basket of compliments” from 3rd grade, in which one person called me “athletic,” by which I think they must have just meant “tall”

— Three green napkins with gold lettering: “National Honor Society, April 29, 1997.” One of them had white smudges on it that I presume must have been frosting almost 20 years ago when the napkin was originally used. I’ll admit, the dirty one sat on my desk all weekend – it made a good coaster.

— An old notebook with some mystery stories I wrote as a child.

— Stickers from the Audubon society (I don’t think these were mine; sometimes my mom likes to add in her own items).

Some items got scanned, some got recycled, some got taken to my classroom, and some were used to wipe my mouth after chowing down on quesadillas that evening. I won’t say which was which. But I will say that although this method is rather slow, it seems effective. When we’re hugging goodbye and she says, “Oh, wait, I just have a couple things for you,” I accept them, every time. My mom is making progress on getting my old junk cleaned up, one Byerly’s bag at a time.

This Mother’s Day, whether it means giving your mom only one of the fourteen drawings you made her, taking a day to clean out old boxes, or simply accepting a bag-full of third-grade spelling tests with a smile, give your mom the gift of less stuff.

Even if it means you’ll have to do a little downsizing later.